Homeless in New York City and a single mom raising three children, April wanted to better her life. She’d been trying for years to find a way to gain technical skills on her meager budget. Then she came across Tech Jobs Academy, a no-cost 16-week technical training pilot program for unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers. April applied, passed the entrance exams, was accepted, and trained 40+ hours per week to gain in-demand IT skills. Upon completion, she was promptly hired as an assistant project manager at Spot On Networks. With a three-year contract, April now has financial stability and health benefits for herself and her children. And the work she does is helping to bring free Wi-Fi to the largest public housing complex in North America.

April’s story shows what is possible.

Empowering people with the future-ready skills they need to be gainfully employed in today’s digital economy is nothing short of life-changing. In addition, city governments recognize that having a highly qualified, skilled workforce fuels economic growth which leads to a higher quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. The workforce ecosystem relies on talented people having the right skills so that they can help local businesses succeed. But these issues aren’t exclusively local in nature. Such objectives are closely aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #8, which calls for the entire world to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

In order for cities to have the globally competitive, 21st-century workforces they need for their economic development, they can’t let talent go to waste. Instead, cities need to ensure that all of their people have the opportunity to fill the jobs of the digital age.

One of the ways municipalities like New York City are doing that is through local job training programs, such as the one April benefited from, which help people acquire or advance in-demand skills such as cloud and server administration, web development, and cybersecurity. The Tech Jobs Academy program in New York City was the result of a partnership between Microsoft, the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, and CUNY’s New York City College of Technology.

At Microsoft, we’ve created a portfolio of programs and solutions as part of our commitment to empowering cities, businesses, and individuals with the right skills and resources to accelerate inclusive digital transformation and economic growth:

  • We’re helping exiting members of the U.S. military gain digital skills through Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA).
  • We’re analyzing mountains of jobs data and sharing insights through the LinkedIn Workforce Report in order to help communities understand what the skills gap looks like at the local level and to help workers better navigate their careers.
  • We’re increasing access to computer science education and opportunities for youth around the world—including a number of initiatives focused on encouraging girls and women to explore and pursue STEM careers—through our YouthSpark initiative.
  • We’re empowering teachers everywhere with technology and other resources through our Microsoft Educator Community. Through Imagine Academy, we offer to schools complete curricula for foundational and advanced IT skills, as well as the opportunity for students, educators and staff to gain new skills and earn globally recognized industry certifications.

And in addition to enabling job seekers, we’re dedicated to empowering the new businesses that will employ the future.

For example, our Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) entrepreneurship programs support creators wherever they are on their journey—from conception to development to acceleration. Startups are an increasingly important economic engine for cities. We empower founders to scale their businesses through our MICs and related resources such as BizSpark.

These are just some of the exciting efforts to bridge the skills gap and empower every person, organization, and community with the necessary skills to succeed in the digital age. It’s been said that a city’s greatest resource is its people—let’s not let it go to waste.

I hope you’ll join us at Smart Cities NYC ’17 to learn more about opportunities that can help your city foster the workforce of the future—starting now. I’m thrilled to be moderating a panel of leaders in the digital workforce space at the event. Titled “Training Tech Talent for the 21st Century,” it will be held on May 5th. I can’t wait to see you there.

Learn more and register for Smart Cities NYC ’17